On December 10, International Human Rights Day Bridge of Hope held a ‘graduation’ style event for its 2012 Transitional Justice students in the University of Ulster’s Transitional Justice Institute (TJI).
Former Human Rights Commissioner and TJI Professor Monica McWilliams presented the certificates and revealed that Bridge of Hope’s transitional justice work is so unique, that she hasn’t seen anything else like it in the world.
Bridge of Hope’s transitional justice initiative centres on materials gathered following intensive grassroots community interaction that was facilitated by TJI Associate Researcher Eilish Rooney.
“I was just delighted to award them with the certificates and Eilish Rooney and [Bridge of Hope] have managed to put together a course and a toolkit that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world,” Monica McWilliams said.
“As you know I have just returned from working with women in Syria and they’re in a terrible situation.
“When I showed them this toolkit last week they begged me to send it to them because they have never seen anything like this. In fact the Americans who were present, the US State Department, US Aid, haven’t seen anything like it and were very impressed about what we were doing here in Northern Ireland.”
The women undertook their studies with Bridge of Hope in the Autumn and Winter of 2012. The work took place against the backdrop of substantial civic unrest but the women continued to meet and discuss issues associated with our past but also what steps were needed for the future.
Irene Sherry, Head of Victims Services at Ashton Community Trust said she was delighted with the success of the programme.
“Our work is very firmly community led and focused. We believe that communities, especially those hit hardest by the legacy of the conflict are so important to engage with. Their input is vital if we are to consider together the impact of the past and what is the shape of our future,” she said.
Monica McWilliams heaped high praise on the participants who came together from Falls Women’s Centre and Shankill Women’s Centre to complete this grassroots conflict initiative.
“It’s wonderful way to mark international Human Rights Day by giving certificates to women from the community who have put in so much hard work and effort into the course they were doing on transitional justice,” Monica added.
Eilish Rooney, School of Sociology and Applied Social Studies TJI Associate authored the report from Bridge of Hope’s grassroots TJ programme. She designed an accompanying toolkit that can be used for discussion about how to deal with the past post-conflict. Describing the work she said: ‘Little did Bridge of Hope know when the TJ work started with groups from Mount Vernon, New Lodge and Tigers Bay that it would lead to a TJ programme with Falls and Shankill Women’s Centres. These women participated with critical commitment and enthusiasm. They used their varied conflict experiences to test the Grassroots Toolkit. They enjoyed the experience, informed the programme and would welcome an opportunity to pursue TJ studies in greater detail in future. I’m grateful to each participant as their individual contribution will inform the planned TJ Grassroots Training Manual and wider conversation about the potential of the Toolkit.’
Monica Mcwilliams said this type of work was needed now more than ever.
“This is a really important time for communities to be involved with the university.
“People do talk about us being in post conflict, but actually the conflict is still all around us as we saw from the events of last week and yet these women, from both sides of the divide, who have entered dialogue with each other on what justice means, stayed with each other, and that’s hard stuff.
“So it’s not just about the local level cross community, it’s about the global level across conflicts that this work on transitional justice that your centre (Bridge of Hope) and this university have put together that is so powerful and so productive.
“As we have now seen, a new group of graduates have just left this morning away to hang their certificates high on their walls, so proud of what they have achieved and so they should be.
“So for me this is a good day at my work in the university when I get to see the outcome of other people’s hard work and I felt very privileged to be able to contribute it in the small way that I did by handing out those awards.”